Clement comfortable on big stage
Red Sox right-hander is unfazed by his return to Chicago
CHICAGO -- Matt Clement loves Chicago as a city. He thoroughly enjoyed his three years with the Cubs. The fact that he will open this postseason for the Red Sox pitching Game 1 of the Division Series in Chicago, albeit against the White Sox?
Clement will leave that storyline for everyone else. This game could be played on a sandlot in South Carolina and Clement would be no less excited. This is playoff time, and Clement is thrilled to be getting the ball, no matter where it is or who it is against.
"I'm motivated just because I'm pitching in a big game. The Chicago factor, with all due respect, doesn't faze me other than I know where I'm at -- I'm in a comfortable spot as far as getting something to eat tonight," said Clement. "This is the playoffs and this is where you want to be. Getting to pitch right now, at this time of year, is more important than worrying about where I am at."
The challenge will be a big one, as Clement (13-6, 4.57 ERA) will be opposed by Jose Contreras, one of the hottest pitchers in baseball, in Game 1, which starts at 4:09 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
When Clement signed a three-year contract with the Red Sox in December, this type of game was exactly what he had in mind.
And to get here now, just a couple of months after that most harrowing incident at Tropicana Field when a Carl Crawford line drive plastered just above his right ear and sent him to the hospital, that makes it perhaps even a little sweeter for Clement.
"I was pretty lucky to ever throw another pitcher after getting hit in the head," said Clement. "I was pretty fortunate with how things turned out."
So, too, have the Red Sox.
Consider what has taken place with the Red Sox's rotation since they won the World Series last year. Pedro Martinez, an all-time great, signed with the Mets as a free agent. Derek Lowe went to the Dodgers. And Curt Schilling, who promised a World Series title for Boston and then delivered it, has spent this year paying the price for all he went through to make good on that vow.
Without Clement having a lights-out first half (10-2, 3.85 ERA), you wonder what position the Red Sox might have been in at the All-Star break.
"He's a real workhouse type of guy," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He's strong, he's durable. He went out there all the time. Early on, he worked so hard. He made the All-Star team. Our guys love him. I love him. He's got the personality, he's not the loudest guy in our clubhouse. But he really competes. He's very intense. His stuff is real, real good. Almost electric at times."
As it turns out, Clement hasn't been as good in the second half, but others, such as David Wells, Tim Wakefield and Bronson Arroyo, have picked up the slack.
However, Clement has still given the Red Sox some quality efforts when they've been needed, even though the wins (just three since the All-Star Game) have been a lot harder to come by. He says not to read too much into the 1-3 record and 6.00 ERA over six September starts.
"I had probably one of the worst starts of the year [in September]," said Clement.
The outing he speaks of came on Sept. 18, when he was shelled by the A's for eight hits and seven runs over 1 1/3 innings.
His final two outings of the season were far more respectable, as he gave up four runs over 11 innings.
"I think I competed really well, especially the last two starts," Clement said. "I felt probably as well as I did earlier in the season. You go through games where you make 15 mistakes and they're OK, and other games where you make three mistakes and they all get hit. Unfortunately, and it's the truth, you get judged by what your statistics are at the end of the day, and in September I didn't have great statistics."
But one way to make that fact disappear is to put up great numbers in October, when the whole baseball world is watching.
While it's true that Clement wouldn't have opened the postseason for the Red Sox if they could have clinched early enough to line up Wells or Wakefield, it's still a fact that Francona and general manager Theo Epstein had enough confidence in Clement to give him the start.
"He's a guy who moved into a tough market in Boston and performed well," said Epstein. "He won a bunch of ballgames for us this year. He had the difficult circumstance of getting hit by a comebacker and coming back quickly and effectively from that. We trust this guy's makeup. As with any other pitcher, it's a matter of going out and executing pitches in big spots. He's a guy we're very comfortable with."
And Clement is comfortable as well, not just with the venue, but the stage.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.